The “Tools” of Kung Fu Weapons

21 12 2014

Sam Jeet

Attend any open tournament and one would probably find that “Chinese Style Weapons” is possibly the most interesting division. Our schools are decorated with them. Any CMA style has a larger variety of them than most other systems. As students, we are excited at the thought of learning each new, exotic weapon as we progress through the ranks.

But what purpose does learning these arts serve? Besides the obvious “cool” factor, what is the practical benefit to learning the kwan dao, the gim, the sern bin, the sam jit gwun? If you’re like the rest of us, you have the canned answer that “learning all these weapons allows the kung fu man to pick up any object and use it for self-defense purposes”. Come on, you know you say it. Hell, most of our Sifus put it on flyers. Some of you probably added, “–have you seen a Jackie Chan movie?” (lol)

Mostly, I agree with you. Learning such weapons as the steel whips, the double dagger, and the humble-but-king-of-weapons:  the lowly staff–will give the martial artist a foundation that will enable almost anything in his hand to turn you into a one man tornado of death. 🙂  However, we must add that it won’t be automatic. The way most of us practice weapons actually won’t give you those butt-kicking skills. You might be offended, but the way most of us were trained, you probably can’t even pick up a broadsword and kick someone’s butt with it. It’s all in how you actually view these weapons.

If you look at kung fu weaponry the way a mechanic views his tools, then you are on the right track. Unfortunately, most martial artists do not. We see a Kung Fu weapon as a cheerleader’s baton, or a set of pom-poms. Some of you treat your three sectioned staffs as musical instruments–the floor is the drum, and your weapon as drumsticks. When looking at Traditional Chinese Martial Arts weapons demonstrations, there will always be someone asking the perplexing question, “Yeah, but can you fight?”


Well, can you?

Looking at how most TCMA practitioners practice with their weapons, an actual match with the weapon would leave the average Kung Fu man stumped. Honestly, most of us have NEVER sparred with our weapons. We know forms with the weapons. We can “demonstrate” (quotation marks added for emphasis) application, as long as our partner doesn’t actually try to attack us. But fight with these things, we’ve never really done. So we are relying on the same thing as the McDojo students with our supposed ability with our skill… We hope these skills will work, but in reality we don’t actually know. Because of the price on these weapons, we don’t even practice our 2-man sets with any real intent. You and I both know, if you’ve actually done a 2 man set with intensity, that going through the form ONCE with power and intensity you’ll completely ruin a good set of weapons.

When a mechanic learns to change an alternator, he knows the first thing he should do is to test the alternator before telling a customer to spend his money. His knowledge of other skills within the automechanic field will help him do this, in the same way a Kung Fu man must have knowledge of other skills in fighting and combat will enhance his ability to use his weapons. The mechanic knows that he must disconnect his battery for a reason. He must have certain tools on hand to loosen bolts, to pry the alternator from it’s space, to remove the belt… Some tools will have various uses in varying stages of the work. And each vehicle will have a different process to the job, although the outcome may be the same.

For the martial artist, there are universal principles with the weapon. There are some techniques that are emphasized for specific weapons, just as there are techniques that cannot or should not be used with those weapons. Some skills can be applied to other weapons; some cannot. Skill with each weapon must be learned, trained and developed individually. Skills with the Kwan Dao may seem like those of the Cheung, but knowing how to use to the Kwan does not mean you are skilled with the spear. A slash with the gim is very different from a slash with the dao. You must understand the nuances and intricasies of each weapon. They are different weapons that require specialized skill, and although they may complement each other–they are separate, yet related, skills. For the martial artist to simply learn a weapons form as an item on his system’s curriculum without deep insight, training and research is to do one’s system a disservice. Form is not enough.

I would like to offer some tips to assist you in your search for more understanding of your system’s weapons:

  • Divide your weapons form into attacks, defenses, and counterattacks. Some techniques may have alternative applications and uses
  • Identify foundation skills with that weapon. For example, the 8 attacks with the Staff, three pokes with the Spear, and five blocks with the short swords. These foundational skills must be trained regularly and individually as skills–not just as part of the form
  • Practice the foundation skills more than you practice the form
  • Identify uses for your weapon in combat:  to break bones, to throw the opponent, to stab organs, to cut or destroy limbs, to disarm the opponent, to destroy the opponent’s weapon… These things are your weapon’s “tools”
  • Find a simulated way to practice your weapons, so that you can beat the weapon up without having to replace a $200 sword every few weeks. One suggestion is to use toy plastic bats for your double broadswords
  • Speaking of double broadswords, have you ever struck anything full power with yours? I have, and it taught me a lot about the use of that weapon. Try it, and you will find that there are many intricasies to learn when employing your weapon full power. A fight is the wrong place to discover how difficult it is to swing a weapon with bad intentions
  • Find an Eskrima tournament, a Cold Steel tournament, an SCA event, or a Chanbara tournament. These are some great places to put your weapons ability to the test without getting hurt, and can be eye-opening. There are people who have one-upped the TCMA community with weapons skills, we really need to get out there and find out what I’m talking about
  • Put together some safe sparring in your schools for your students to try out their weapons skills. It’s another level to aspire to in the martial arts, and many of us are unaware that this level even exists
  • Bridge the gap between what works in sparring and what’s found in your form. Believe it or not, the gap in the Chinese martial arts is actually very small. Most of what is in our systems works; we just need to discover how they work. Getting a feel for these weapons in an environment other than a choreographed form

Many schools have a very good grasp on the use of weapons for fighting. Overall, I believe that the Wing Chun community and the Choy Lay Fut community have done a very good job of doing so with their weapons work. For most of us, we have limited our knowledge and skill to simply the skill of performing a form–and there is so much more in the arts than that. Please take this advice and discover for yourself a whole new world within the Chinese martial arts, even if you realize that you may be a novice… and take your Kung Fu to another level.

Thanks for visiting the DC Jow Ga Federation.